I recently discovered a little demon that had hidden itself away in my cells, quietly waiting for the perfect time to rear its ugly head and wreak havoc on my heart. It birthed itself during a quick, two-hour road trip a couple months back.
I thought that demon was long dead… thought nothing I heard about my past could do much damage anymore. I was wrong. Turns out, the demon wasn’t dead, just dormant. And turns out, it could still do a helluvalot of damage.
Ever since, I’ve been working my way through a very hard memory…
Memories. They’re never photographic and never completely accurate. They’re fuzzy and fragmented and colored by our own personal perceptions and perspectives.
This one, I kept buried for a long time. But it bubbled and bloomed under the surface. Time softened it… but in a furry, moldy, sordid, slimy sort of way. But the time has come for it to be dug up. Time to bring it into the light, dry it out, turn it to dust, and blow it away.
And y’all, I’m not talking metaphorical demons here. I was a sixteen-year-old junior when I was told I was demon-possessed.
Now I was a far-from-perfect child. I had a major crush on the butterscotch boy next door; I was writing mysteries with teenage girls with plunging necklines and music minister murderers; and I was failing my Algebra II class. But I’m pretty sure I wasn’t demon-possessed. At least, not until that night.
I recall standing in a marble entryway with a bathrobe on my lanky frame and a chip on my shoulder. To my right was a still life painting of cream roses in a shadowy vase. To my left were double oak doors, locked. Before me, my accuser, arms crossed, eyes blazing, telling me the devil was in me. Telling me I was going straight to hell.
That night, a pervasive demon of fear and self-loathing tangled itself up with my youthful defiance and climbed through the dilated pores of my freshly showered skin. To avoid my accuser’s red glare, I focused on the still life instead — the gold ochre roses captured in a burnished vase. Crashing waves of Prussian Blue smashed mercilessly into and around them. Petals broken and fallen. Plunged into oily darkness.
My accuser would remember the scene differently, I’m sure. Would remember the wayward daughter with the rebellious streak and the raging desire. The girl consumed by fire. The girl caught up in the ways of the world. The world caught up in the girl. She needed purging in the worst sort of way.
Funny thing about memories… two people remembering the same incident can have two entirely different accounts of what happened. And it doesn’t make either account less true.
With really difficult memories, the differences and disparities reveal the differences and despair in each individual. And each of us felt them… profoundly.
The facts are straightforward; the truth is not.
The fact is my parents were doing what they absolutely thought best. The fact is they did their best to raise me. The fact is they knew the world to be a dangerous place. The fact is they submerged all of us in strict doctrine and stern dogma to save us.
And the fact is I was a far-from perfect child. I was headstrong and fighting for my life. I did my best to escape them and the cult of domesticity they were raising me in. And I did. I escaped with my newly-planted demons of fear and self-loathing, with an ample serving of defiance, and I went to live with my guardian angel grandmother.
They did their best. And so did I. Those are the facts.
But the truth belongs to each individual — and we are all colored by our pasts. By our truths. And our demons. Even my father.
He confessed to me on that two-hour drive how sorry he was that he sent me to live with my grandmother.
… he was sorry for burdening her heart at her advanced age with a rebellious teenage girl.
Shame and guilt overwhelmed me. That demon of tangled up fear and self-loathing, tinged with teenage defiance tore through my gut in a blaze of ungodly glory. And it refuses to leave.
But then today I found some hope. I read a chapter from Jen Pastiloff’s On Being Human, called, “Rewrite Your Story: Memory Lost and Found.” It focuses on facing and excising your demons. Denouncing them as liars.
I took it as a sign. Especially after I soon found this little gem: “Don’t die with your music still inside of you.”
So I decided to write out my memory and sing out my sorrow. This demon is no longer allowed to hang out as a devil inside.
So I hope someone out there is listening. I want to be absolved. I need to be absolved. And I want to help absolve others. Because Toni Morrison, the greatest writer of our time, once said something I believe in wholeheartedly: The function of freedom is to free someone else.
I kept her quote taped to my writing desk for years. And now I keep it stapled in my soul.
Today, I share my memory, my song, and my freedom. And I beg you to share yours too.
Share your truth and be saved from the devils breeding somewhere deep in the darkness of your past.
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